New Paint, Same Old Wooden Horse
Even in the busiest of seasons, smaller games deserve some attention. In that spirit, welcome to Month of Coverage Club. Come back each day in November for a full-length impressions piece based on a hidden gem you've probably never heard of.
Last year, I reviewed a strategy/simulation indie game by developer Creative Storm Entertainment titled Age of Gladiators II. A pretty deep game with a sci-fi gladiator aesthetic, it was stat heavy and satiated the need for something crunchy to sink my teeth into. This is despite some gameplay hang-ups, balance issues, and an overall passive experience that lacked personal input.
About a year later, Creative Storm Entertainment followed it up by releasing another Age of Gladiators II, this time subtitled Rome (the previous game has since been given a new subtitle in Death League.) Much like Death League, Age of Gladiators II: Rome is a stat-heavy experience that is all about managing a gladiator school in the final years of the Roman Republic. This is a place where savvy businessmen participate in gladiatorial games for fame, honor and of course, money.
If this sounds familiar, it is because Rome is a carbon copy of the game I reviewed last year, only in a different skin. This is not really hyperbole either. Everything directly comes over, from the management of your school to the battles in the arena you can participate in. Of course, parts of the game have been changed or removed to fit the Roman theme, such as the use of firearms, but the primary mechanics are effectively the same.
So similar, in fact, that my original Age of Gladiators II review pretty much sums up my overall thoughts. It is a fun, if passive experience that really fulfills the needs for a niche audience. It is the kind of stat-heavy game that many hardcore strategy or simulations fans thrive on. Everything, from percentage to hit to even skill with certain weapons, has a number attached to it that affects their performance in the arena, making it a game that will be fun to track if you are in the right state of mind for it.
Make no mistake, Rome is not a fast, active experience. The slow grind of the leveling system will disappoint players craving action-oriented combat. Most days are all about the preparing and caring for your gladiators, the building up of your Ludus, and sometimes partaking in optional side quests to more coin, influence or even more gladiators.
So, what has changed other than the theme of the game? Minor details such as the crowd choosing who lives or dies is always a nice touch. This also goes for the occasional battles against wild animals. One of the more interesting features is how clever Creative Storm made the myriad of options in Death League fit into the new theme. Instead of alien races, for example, we now have multiple, period-accurate ethnicities that players can recruit from. There is still a light, medium and heavy class style system. This time around, they are based on actual gladiator titles, along with period-accurate weapons and armor.
It is the tangential learning that becomes the asset to Age of Gladiators II: Rome. Most of the game serves as a playable textbook of basic information of what the Roman games could have been. At the very least, Creative Storm has put tons of effort into making the game feel authentic. Even where it embellishes for the sake of the game itself, that alone is commendable.
Overall though, the game does suffer from some the same problems as Death League. The added option to fight your own gladiatorial battles is still a good idea but its execution is lacking. On the other hand, the A.I is much improved this time around. They often use more tactical options to try and gain the upper hand against the player. Difficulty options that tweak starting wealth, training times for A.I opponents, and even the lethality of the game are also nice additions. Ultimately, none of this helps in combating the passivity of the overall experience.
Ultimately, Age of Gladiators II: Rome is just a re-skinned version of Creative Storm's sci-fi title. There are only some minor improvements to make it fit its Roman theme. If you liked Death League, this is certainly up your alley. However, the same problems in my original review apply, right down to the byline that summed up Death League. “Age of Gladiators II is certainly not for everyone, but it will soothe the simulation itch by being a well-made, stat-heavy game with a strong thematic backdrop."
TechRaptor covered Age of Gladiators II: Rome on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the developer.